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Removing conceptual blinders: Under what conditions does the ‘democratic deficit’ affect institutional design decisions?


  • Berthold Rittberger


This paper pursues two objectives, one theoretical the other empirical. First, by keeping separate two grand strands in the EU studies literature, one on the design and reform of EU institutions and the other on the EU’s ‘democratic deficit’, EU scholars are foreclosing the opportunity to address a hitherto unanswered question: When and under what conditions does the ‘democratic deficit’ – as it is perceived by political elites in the member states – carry institutional design implications? Does the ‘democratic deficit’ really matter to political elites, and if this is the case, how does it matter? Will it inform political elites’ preferences and choices for institutional design and change? By conceptualising the ‘democratic deficit’ as a value of the independent variable, we are guided to ask when and under what conditions it informs decisions for institutional design and reform. This paper will develop a set of propositions linking political elites’ perceptions about a ‘democratic deficit’ and their institutional design preferences. Secondly, to test the plausibility of these propositions, they will be subjected to empirical scrutiny. The paper shows that the creation and empowerment of the European Parliament can be accounted for by applying the propositions elaborated in this paper. Hence, a question that has puzzled students of European integration since the inception of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) – why national governments have successively bestowed the European Parliament (EP) with powers (supervisory, budgetary, and legislative) – can only be answered by exploring the conditions under which the ‘democratic deficit’ – as perceived by political elites – will carry institutional design implications.

Suggested Citation

  • Berthold Rittberger, 2003. "Removing conceptual blinders: Under what conditions does the ‘democratic deficit’ affect institutional design decisions?," The Constitutionalism Web-Papers p0023, University of Hamburg, Faculty for Economics and Social Sciences, Department of Social Sciences, Institute of Political Science.
  • Handle: RePEc:erp:conweb:p0023

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Andrew Moravcsik & Kalypso Nicolaïdis, 1999. "Explaining the Treaty of Amsterdam: Interests, Influence, Institutions," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 37(1), pages 59-85, March.
    2. Moravcsik, Andrew, 1991. "Negotiating the Single European Act: national interests and conventional statecraft in the European Community," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 45(01), pages 19-56, December.
    3. Berthold Rittberger, 2003. "The Creation and Empowerment of the European Parliament," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(2), pages 203-225, April.
    4. Giandomenico Majone, 2000. "The Credibility Crisis of Community Regulation," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 38(2), pages 273-302, June.
    5. John Lambert, 1966. "The Constitutional Crisis 1965-66," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 4(3), pages 195-228, March.
    6. repec:elg:eechap:2154_1 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Hurd, Ian, 1999. "Legitimacy and Authority in International Politics," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 53(02), pages 379-408, March.
    8. Pollack, Mark A., 1999. "Delegation, Agency and Agenda Setting in the Treaty of Amsterdam," European Integration online Papers (EIoP), European Community Studies Association Austria (ECSA-A), vol. 3, April.
    9. March, James G. & Olsen, Johan P., 1998. "The Institutional Dynamics of International Political Orders," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 52(04), pages 943-969, September.
    10. Hix, Simon, 2002. "Constitutional Agenda-Setting Through Discretion in Rule Interpretation: Why the European Parliament Won at Amsterdam," British Journal of Political Science, Cambridge University Press, vol. 32(02), pages 259-280, April.
    11. Pollack, Mark A., 1997. "Delegation, agency, and agenda setting in the European Community," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 51(01), pages 99-134, December.
    12. repec:cup:apsrev:v:88:y:1994:i:01:p:128-142_09 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Jonas Tallberg, 2000. "The Anatomy of Autonomy: An Institutional Account of Variation in Supranational Influence," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 38(5), pages 843-864, December.
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    constitution building; democracy; ideas; legitimacy; non-majoritarian institutions; treaty reform; European Parliament;

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